Welcome to the Distant Reaches!
The Distant Reaches are a vast land filled with strange beings, ancient magic, powerful romances, and bloody conflicts.
If you are just beginning your journey, you’ve come to the right place. Every traveler needs a guide, after all. There are many secrets to uncover — far more than we can explore here — but these are the basics everyone should know before setting out on one of the many roads ahead.
Geography and the Land
The Distant Reaches stretch across two continents, the Eastern and Western Reaches. Legend has it the first tribes migrated across the vast western Sand Wastes before arriving at the Amal Straight, which bisects the two great continents, and settling the great city of Amalcross.
To the East lie the fertile Boern River Valley, Lake Kine, and the Booley Swamps. Beyond, the forbidding Sindar Mountains rise and obscure the frontiers ever further eastward. To the North stretches the frigid Mede Sea, the ice-choked Northern Reaches, and the various cultures of the Frozen Flame. Merchants who venture South across the Hurron Ocean will eventually arrive in the Salavas Islands, known as the Spicelands — if they survive the journey.
Empire, Politics, and Economy
The Amal Empire rules over the known world of the Distant Reaches (or so its rulers like to believe) from Amalcross, its capital city.
The Empire has grown and evolved for hundreds of years under the grip of an Emperor and the powerful aristocratic families comprising the Hundred Houses. The Emperor may control the Treasury, Amalguard, Unified Militaries, and the dreaded secret police known as the Imperial Catechism, but there are numerous factions and centers of influence constantly competing for imperial favor over their rivals.
In this deeply mercantile society, nothing speaks louder than money. Major banks, such as the Horst Concern and Bank Opal, as well as trading syndicates and various guilds, each exercise considerable sway.
The Empire itself is more rigidly and directly governed in the regions nearest to Amalcross. The further from the capital one goes, the more diffuse the Emperor’s power becomes. In the far hinterlands, the Empire is often more of an idea; there, warlords, vassal princes, contract kings, and Free Cities hold sway, often paying little more than lip service to the Empire.
The Conclave of Bards
One of the Amal Empire’s oldest and most important traditions is the Conclave of Bards. Held every ten years in the Grand Hall of the Palace Imperial, the Conclave gathers the greatest bards from across the land. These storytellers compete to weave tales of such power, terror, drama or romance as to move the diamond-hearted Emperor himself.
Not only does the Conclave serve to build cultural cohesion within the Empire and to document the goings-on of the world, but it is politically significant as well. The Bard who wins the competition may request a binding boon — an unbreakable promise — from the Emperor. Such a boon is a thing of power, and it is not a reward the Emperor grants lightly.
Peoples of the World
Most citizens of the Amal Empire are human beings like you or me, yet there are two other intelligent peoples travelers may meet.
The Salavasters are humanoid lizards from the Salavas Islands. Skilled craftworkers, merchants, and magic users, their family lineages can be recognized by the many-hued colors of their scales. Owing to the decades-long gestation of their eggs and their extreme longevity (Salavasters easily live for hundreds of years), their society is suspicious of outsiders. They are known for being peaceful and highly lawful — but also passive-aggressive and prone to hold grudges. They also control the spice trade from the Salavas Islands, and are most often seen in Amalcross in and around the Bazaar. Salavasters are neither male nor female — I beg of you, do not gender a Salavaster! You will likely be disemboweled on the spot.
Many people live in dread of meeting an adult Rilk. Indeed, their reputation for violence and brutality is well-deserved. These spined, horned creatures roam the frontiers, preying upon any living thing they encounter. Their society is formed of many small clans, all of which compete constantly for resources. Occasionally, a particularly powerful matriarch may join several of these clans into a roving army called a “Spine,” but such political alliances quickly disintegrate. This chaotic tendency is the only thing that has prevented the Rilk’gar from utterly overwhelming the armies of the Empire. At the same time, like all beings, the Rilk’gar are not monolithic in their violent nature. They speak, reason, and even engage in wild magic and Binding. And frontier farmers have long known they can be plied with trade and gifts to strike a tenuous peace.
Magic, more often called “Binding” in the Distant Reaches, is practiced by many learned mages and Binders. While the actual construction of spells or Binds is complex, it is all rooted in a basic practice. The Ordered Realm, in which we live, is divided from the Chaotic Realm by a porous border: the Meridian.
Binders draw upon the Meridian to channel Chaos and Order for the creation of some magical effect. These Binds are created using an intricate series of glyphs which function as a sort of recipe or equation, calling upon elements in our ordered world to channel chaotic energy and bring about an intended result. Spells and Binds always exact a physical toll in the Ordered Realm — either upon the body of the caster or some other physical entity — so a poorly devised Bind may have vast and unintended consequences. Powerful Binders often make use of tattoos and various magical focuses and talismans to channel their Binds.
In the beginning, there was no order but Chaos. It was Skaardruf, the Divider and Creator, who cleaved Order from Chaos. But in doing so, he awoke that which was already there, though it did not know itself: Syzygax, the God of All and None.
These are the Forbidden Gods, and the battle between them — between the Order of Skaardruf and the Chaos of Syzygax — wages still today.
To aid him in his battle against Syzygax, Skaardruf gave birth to his progeny, the so-called Greater Gods:
Bouledar: God of Healing and Community
Vrauma: Goddess of Love and Peace (twin to Quatha)
Quatha: Goddess of War and Strategy (twin to Vrauma)
Ennowis: God of Age and Wisdom
Tumul: God of Building and Rhetoric
Fen: God of Agriculture and Fertility
Polmos: Goddess of Life and Death
Many people also worship local gods, powerful albeit lesser beings that enter the Ordered Realm at places where contact with the Meridian is strong. As a practical matter, any sort of contact with the Greater or Forbidden Gods is exceedingly rare, if not mythological. Local gods most often manifest as druidic or animist spirits and may play a significant role in the lives and fortunes of individuals and communities.
The Distant Reaches are full of strange, mysterious, and sometimes dangerous magical beings known as Uncanny Beings or, simply, Uncannies.
Uncannies are born from the Meridian who, for whatever reason, do not have the power, influence, longevity or motivation to manifest as local gods. Instead, they wander the world in various forms — sometimes appearing as fantastical creatures such as dragons, demons, djinn, fae, or other monsters — and other times as something more akin to a human being with terrible and dread powers. Many magical beasts were even manufactured by the mettling of Uncannies in the Ordered Realm. From time to time, powerful Binders have sought to exploit or befriend Uncannies.
Major Historical Events
We join this world in the year 811 of the Amal Era (AE), more than eight centuries after the founding of Old Amalcross by King Cogidubnus the Only. Yet the tides of history run deep, and denizens of the Distant Reaches know at least the basics of their history.
~12,000 Non-Amal Era (NAE): Creation of the world.
~8,343 NAE: First appearance of Salavasters.
~5,094 NAE: First appearance of Rilk’gar.
~2,211 NAE: First appearance of humans.
~987 NAE: Fall of the Thirty Clans.
85 NAE: The Founding Families settle on the Amal Straight.
0 AE: Founding of Old Amalcross.
10 AE: First Conclave and the First Rout of the Rilk’gar.
52 AE: Riversend War. The sacking of Riversend, a city-state further north on the Boern River, proved the long-standing fortitude of Amalcross’s military and secured the city’s economic position.
113 AE: Great Quake. A huge earthquake destroyed the first Skaardruf Temple, and the first Palace Imperial collapsed in a landslide that devastated the three-tiered Crossings neighborhood (the second Palace Imperial was reconstructed further inland to the west).
113-121 AE: Rebuilding and the Blue Plague. The mosquito-borne Blue Plague decimated the population of Amalcross for almost a decade. Those who fell sick turned blue and died as their blood ceased to oxygenate. It was subsequently discovered the invasive plague mosquitos arrived in the city alongside the massive importation of building materials used for the reconstruction.
301 AE: Founding of the Bazaar. After the attempts of fourteen emperors, trade and relations with the Salavasters were finally formalized, leading to the establishment of the Bazaar (spice market) in New Amalcross. This is recognized as the opening of the New World. The Conclave of Bards was re-introduced in celebration and established as a recurring practice.
370-373 AE: Sack of Amalcross. The restive city-state of Mard sacked Amalcross during its own campaign of empire-building.
395-445 AE: Fifty-Year War with Mard. Amalcross rebuilt, went to war, and struck a deal with the Rilk’gar to sack Mard after decades of fighting. Emperor Kaluan ‘ja Faison ruled through 445 AE. He died the day victory was claimed over Mard from grief over the loss of his eldest daughter, the Warrior Princess Rishne. Radha ‘ja Faison, Kaluan’s second-born, assumed the throne in 445 AE.
445-447 AE: Second Rout of the Rilk’gar. Fighting broke out over the treasures of Mard. Amalcross drove the Rilk’gar to the borders once more, consolidating its power and territory.
506-507 AE: Siege of Vurun. A dark Binder raised an army to lay siege to Amalcross. After his defeat by an organized force of soldiers and mages, the rules of magic were entered into the imperial code. The Magist Imperial University was founded.
681: Reign of Rorei the Young begins. Rorei was the longest-serving and oldest emperor, but his reliance on his Imperial Magus’s profane powers to maintain his youth and virility led to debilitating and homicidal madness.
731 AE: Rorei banned the Conclave of Bards.
791 AE: Assassination of Rorei the Young. A popular movement against the Emperor arose; the Amalguard eventually served the Empire and assassinated both Rorei and the Imperial Magus.
801 AE: Conclave of Bards reestablished.
811 AE: Present day. The Empire is recovering under a new Emperor, but there is still distrust and memories of the Reign of Rorei. There are hopes of a golden age of art and culture.